Cover Stories Spring 2004

Death Toll Mounts in Multi-State Kennel Cough Outbreak

Nationwide: An outbreak of kennel cough first reported at several Florida dog tracks in mid-June quickly spread throughout the country. As a precautionary measure, tracks in other states imposed quarantines on incoming dogs, but it was already too late. By July 31, 22 greyhounds in three states were dead and the outbreak was being reported as a mysterious respiratory illness.

Florida: The outbreak began at the Flagler track in Miami and spread to tracks in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Orlando, Bonita Springs and the Ebro track in Washington County.

By June 30, 600 of the 800 dogs kenneled at the Naples-Fort Myers track in Bonita Springs were sick and one greyhound was dead. The illness was labeled kennel cough by state and racetrack officials, but Cynda Crawford, the veterinary immunologist leading the research into the outbreak said, "it's too early to know the answer." Crawford, of the University of Florida, brought the dog's body to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine to be necropsied.

Crawford is working with a research team made up of virologists from Cornell University and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Blood tests taken from recovering dogs may determine that the illness is a variant of equine influenza virus, first identified by Crawford's team in January after eight Jacksonville greyhounds died.

The Naples Daily News reported in late July that the known death toll had risen to ten. Hardest hit were the dogs at the Orlando track, where six greyhounds died. Two dogs died at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, one in Palm Beach, and one in Bonita Springs. All of the dogs died from severe hemorrhagic bronchopneumonia, Crawford said, but the cause is still unknown. "Residual tissue damage in the lungs, coupled with the heat and heavy exercise, may lead to a relapse with more severity than the initial onset," she said.

Dave Roberts, director of the state's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, said Florida greyhound tracks are not required to report dog deaths to his division, nor can he force any tracks to impose a quarantine or reduced racing schedule.

Texas: Kennel cough struck the two Texas tracks in late June. Despite the outbreak, Gulf Greyhound Park went forward with the matinee and evening races scheduled for the July 4th holiday weekend. Within days, half of the 1,000 racing greyhounds in the kennel compound were sick and three were dead.

Corpus Christi Greyhound Park announced Wednesday, July 7, that it had canceled races until Friday, July 9, after two greyhounds died. Jacques Triplett, the track's general manager, said kennel cough usually runs its course in a matter of days, adding that the dogs should be healthy enough by Friday to resume racing.

Susan Netboy, president of the Greyhound Protection League, who has been monitoring the spread of the disease, disagreed with Triplett. "The stress of racing is what turns a fairly common ailment like kennel cough into a fatal disease," she said. "If a dog is already sick, and is forced to race, he's going to develop complications."

Within three weeks four more greyhounds died, bringing the Texas death toll to nine. Stewart Marsh, DVM, Chief Veterinarian for the Texas Racing Commission, said the dogs developed high fevers and a deadly secondary infection.

West Virginia: Kennel cough struck the Wheeling Island track in early July. The track's kennel compound houses 1,800 greyhounds. West Virginia Racing Commission veterinarian Lori Bohenko, who is assigned to the Wheeling Island track, confirmed that two greyhounds died July 6 from complications related to the airborne illness. A third greyhound died July 8.

Kansas: The Kansas Racing Commission issued an order of quarantine on incoming dogs July 1. A revised order preventing dogs from leaving the track was issued July 7 when kennel cough was discovered at the Wichita track. Ben Travis, director of racing, said, "By the time the quarantine was imposed we had already received some dogs that had the virus." Live racing was canceled at Wichita until at least Aug. 15. The Woodlands in Kansas City is also under quarantine, but no dogs have been reported with symptoms of kennel cough.

Arkansas: Southland Greyhound Park cancelled all matinee races July 21 because of a kennel cough outbreak. There have been no follow-up reports on the number of greyhounds affected.

Sources: St. Petersburg Times: Bob Putnam;
The Miami Herald:
Associated Press;
Fort Myers News-Press: Mary Wozniak;
Naples Daily News: Kristen Zambo;
Galveston County Daily News: Ted Dunnam;
Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Matt Young;
Wheeling News-Register: Tom Diana;
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pohia Smith;
KATV Little Rock